Australian Open: Murray and Mauresmo back on track

Murray and Amelie Mauresmo during practice in Melbourne yesterday. Picture: AP
Murray and Amelie Mauresmo during practice in Melbourne yesterday. Picture: AP
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There are two women in Andy Murray’s life: Kim Sears, his fiancée and the woman he describes as his ‘rock’ in helping him through the rough times in his professional career, and then there is Amelie Mauresmo, his coach and the woman charged with bringing him brighter times in the future. Criticise either at you peril.

When the Scot barged his way past Tomas Berdych on Thursday and reached his fourth Australian Open final, it was to Mauresmo he turned in salute. She was the coach, she was the guide, she deserved the credit. All those who had dared to criticise Murray’s chosen mentor could eat their words now – he was through to another major final and he had got there playing some of the most controlled yet aggressive tennis of his life.

Tomorrow, he will meet Novak Djokovic, his oldest rival, in the final, their third such meeting in Melbourne Park. The world No 1 has won the last twice and leads their overall rivalry 15-8, but this year may just be different.

True, Djokovic beat Stan Wawrinka in yesterday’s semifinal 7-6, 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 but he looked utterly drained by the end of the battle of the unforced errors. In all, the two men racked up 118 errors between them – this was no classic. Djokovic knows he will have to play a good deal better if he is to beat the Scot once again. For Murray, the very fact that he is in another final is vindication enough. Mauresmo has led him out of the frustrations of last year and on to a new beginning.

“It was very tough for Amelie at the end of last year,” he said, “because a lot of people were criticising her and my choice of her and whether she could coach or not, whether she was the right person or not.

“But it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, it’s what I think and I believe in her. When we talk about my game we completely agree on the things I need to work on, the way I need to play the game. So that’s a good start. After that, it’s just about practising it, working on it and then putting it into effect on the match court. Amelie did a fantastic job in the off-season on those things.

“She’s done a very good job, she’s a very good coach and a very good person. I’ll say it again, there’s no reason for her to be criticised, because I only spent two weeks training with her, one week before the US swing and one week before the US Open last year, when it was tough to work on things. My performances last year were not down to Amelie at all.”

On court after beating Berdych on Thursday, Murray praised Mauresmo for helping him come so far in such a short space of time – after all, it was only a matter of weeks ago that he was being thrashed by Roger Federer at the O2 Arena – and she was, he maintained, brave for having agreed to work with him in the first place.

“When we started, I didn’t really think I was brave; looking back now, yeah maybe,” Mauresmo said. “When it happened, because of the talk we both had, we were really on the same page of why he was asking me and so I really thought I could really help him in these different areas that he was looking to improve so it was not an issue for me.

“And then when I heard or read a little bit about the comments and stuff, I thought ‘wow, it’s not that easy’. In terms of where the society is right now, it’s still not that easy and hopefully it will make things easier now.

“But he was also brave. But he’s not scared of those things. He has his own ideas and beliefs and he’s pretty strong about those. I think he was brave but I also believe he was just moving forward with what he thought was the best thing to do.”

Murray has never cared what anyone else has thought about his actions or his opinions – he has always been his own man, even when he was a teenager starting out on the tour. As a 17-year-old, he sacked the coach appointed for him by the Sanchez-Casals Academy because he felt his game was not progressing in the right direction. He was still playing in the juniors at the time, but even then, he knew his own mind.

Since then, the coaching personnel has changed several times in the team but when Murray makes his mind up about an individual, that is it. And with Mauresmo, he soon discovered that they thought the same way, they both wanted the same things and they saw the same path toward reaching the eventual goal. It is a marriage made in heaven, as Murray made clear with that on-court speech after the semi-finals.

“I was surprised, actually,” Mauresmo said. “I didn’t expect it all because between us, there has never been the fuss that was going on around us. It was never an issue, never a talk or a discussion we could have so I was kind of surprised that he did that but also I appreciated the gesture.

“I think he probably also did it for him because, again, every time I think he was in press conference since Wimbledon last year, the questions are really questioning me and the good decision he made or not, and so he probably had enough of that. I’m sure the results [are proving he was right], it’s always better to show than to respond vocally. So he’s showing right now.”

Last year was fraught for many reasons. Murray was still trying to get back to his physical peak after back surgery, he had no time to practise and train as he trailed from tournament to tournament and there were tensions within the camp.

But now that his team is settled and he has had a chance to work with Mauresmo in the off-season, Murray is a new man. According to Mauresmo, he is a stronger man.

“He is in a better place now,” she said. “I think he’s happy. He’s also relaxed, in his own way. He’s focused, intense, committed, like I haven’t seen him when I was with him in the second part of last year. He’s sticking to his choices and I think that makes him strong.”